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The European e-Accessibility Forum: opening up digital culture

Just as digital accessibility picks up more and more mainstream interest, certain topics within the accessibility field also begin gathering momentum. One such topic is accessible culture. Clearly, this can mean many things, but in this case it refers to cultural spaces (such as museums and art galleries), projects and resources being made more inclusive through digital technology.

For some people, this has already been a focal point for years, perhaps through employment, personal interest or just frustration at the lack of accessibility within these areas.

Earlier this month, the eleventh European e-Accessibility Forum sought to explore this vast subject with its theme of ‘e-accessible culture’. Held in Paris at the Cité des sciences et de l’Industrie, the event was organised by French non-profit BrailleNet, an organisation that works towards improving digital accessibility.

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A “tax on accessible books”: mixed emotions at Marrakesh Treaty progress

The latest agreement in the process of implementing the Marrakesh Treaty, which aims to help end the ‘book famine’ faced by blind and visually impaired people, has been met with a mixture of praise and frustration.

The treaty aims to increase the availability of books in accessible formats, such as Braille and e-books, by relaxing copyright laws which make it difficult or time-consuming to share accessible books across different countries (read e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage of the Marrakesh Treaty at the following link: http://eab.li/6j ).

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The Kindle begins to find its voice with text-to-speech

Amazon is making its Kindle e-readers more accessible for visually impaired users by introducing a screen-reader feature.

The VoiceView screen-reading function is now available on the Kindle Paperwhite model by plugging in the ‘Kindle Audio Adaptor’, a USB device designed by Amazon specifically for use with the Kindle. Users plug the adaptor into the Paperwhite charging jack, before plugging in headphones to the adaptor, and can then listen to e-books and navigate the Kindle interface through text-to-speech and touch-screen functionality, with eight adjustable reading speeds.

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Accessible book body to focus on developing countries

An initiative to increase production and dissemination of accessible format books for blind and print-impaired readers in developing countries has been launched by a group of international bodies.

Members of the new Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) include the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO); the World Blind Union (WBU); the DAISY talking book format; the International Publishers Association; and the International Authors Forum. It is intended as a stop-gap measure pending implementation of a WIPO treaty on access to printed works for blind and print-impaired people, signed in July last year.

The ‘Marrakech Treaty’ will eventually allow exceptions to international copyright laws permitting sharing of accessible printed materials, but must first be ratified by 20 countries, a process still being completed.

Maryanne Diamond, chair of the WBU’s ‘Right to Read’ campaign, told E-Access Bulletin the consortium will be testing some elements that need to be in place for implementation of the treaty.

“[It] provides the opportunity to trial different ways to get books in the hands of persons who are blind,” Diamond said. “It will undertake capacity building of: publishers to publish accessible [books] and organisations in developing countries to produce and distribute accessible books,” she said.

Further work will focus on will focus on boosting demand for accessible books among groups of blind and print-impaired people in developing countries, including work already underway in Bangladesh.

Other areas of work for the ABC include talking with publishers and (printed materials) rights holders, and urging them to publish their texts in accessible formats. Once the Marrakech Treaty is fully ratified, the body’s work will scale back, Diamond said.

A detailed report on the Marrakech Treaty and its background can be found in a previous issue of E-Access Bulletin.

E-book access debate continues in US following legal waiver

The debate over whether all e-book readers should be made accessible – including the addition of sound capabilities – is set to continue in the US, after the country’s Federal Communications Commission granted reader manufacturers a temporary waiver to one accessibility regulation.

The FCC has granted a one-year waiver exempting single-purpose e-book readers from a requirement in the US 21st Century Video and Communications and Video Accessibility Act that equipment used for advanced communication services (ACS) be accessible to people with disabilities.

The move came in response to a petition filed last year by a coalition of e-reader manufacturers –Amazon, Kobo and Sony – who said that because e-readers are used almost exclusively for reading, they do not provide ACS (see http://bit.ly/16gW53i ). The firms also argued that to make such readers fully accessible would increase their cost and weight and decrease battery life, essentially turning them into different devices more similar to tablet computers.

In granting the waiver, the FCC said: “Although capable of accessing ACS (such as email), we conclude that this narrow class of e-readers is designed primarily for reading text-based digital works, not for ACS.”

However, the commission limited the waiver to one year, despite the coalition’s request for an indefinite waiver, saying: “given the swift pace at which technologies are evolving and the expanding role of ACS in electronic devices, the waiver will expire on January 28, 2015.”

It also limited the waiver to “a distinct, narrow class of e-readers” with limited features, namely those with no LCD screen; no camera; and no built-in email, instant messaging or similar ACS applications. Most e-book manufacturers already also make more sophisticated, tablet PC-style readers which do comply with accessibility rules, and the new waiver in effect separates these categories of products from each other for legal purposes – for one year, at least.

Nate Hoffelder, editor of the e-books blog “Digital reader“, told E-Access Bulletin he expected the waiver to be extended again next year, since its removal would be likely to result in the simpler class of e-book readers being withdrawn from the market.

“By the time the new regulation was written in 2011, Amazon, Kobo… and other device makers all had one or more e-readers on the market which did not have sound, and thus could not comply with the regulation”, Hoffelder said. “That put the device makers in the position of filing for a waiver or simply pulling the e-readers from the market.”

However the American Library Association, which has campaigned against any waiver, said in a statement it was “pleased that e-reader manufacturers must file for a waiver next year and re-argue their case, or make their e-reader ACS features accessible to people with print and other disabilities.”

Supply chain collaboration key to accessible e-books

People in all parts of the publishing chain – from device manufacturers to those developing content platforms – must work together to improve e-book accessibility, delegates at the London Book Fair heard this month.

“No one player in the chain between author and reader can solve the problem of accessibility on their own … only through collaboration can we achieve our goal of delivering the content in ways and on platforms that suit the needs of particular readers”, Publishers Licensing Society (PLS) chairman Mark Bide told the fair’s seminar on accessible e-publishing.

The seminar is organised by the book industry standards body EDItEUR with the Royal National Institute of Blind People and The Publishers Association.

Speaking after the seminar, Bide told E-Access Bulletin the debate over e-book accessibility has shifted recently towards the need to ensure mainstream formats are flexible. “We are now increasingly focused on the importance of making mainstream e-books as accessible as possible, although we do not forget that there continues to be a need to facilitate access to specialist formats where no appropriate e-book is accessible”, he said.

“As with any other reader, we simply need to deliver the reading experience that [readers] require – whether it be large print, text-to-speech, different text or background colours”, Bide said.

Is EPUB the most accessible format? One Voice launches debate

The EPUB electronic book format is the most accessible digital document format, according to a new paper designed to open a debate on accessibility of all mainstream document formats by people with disabilities.

The debate – intended to lead to a further paper to be published in the summer – has been launched by One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition, an umbrella group for organisations supporting access to digital technology by people with disabilities.

“At present digital documents are sent out in a variety of formats including doc, docx, pdf, EPUB, daisy, MP3 and MP4 and it is not clear what the accessibility pros and cons of these different formats are and if one should be the preferred option”, Peter Abrahams, accessibility leader at Bloor Research and author of the paper, said this week.

According to the paper, EPUB documents can be accessed by most people including users of special access technology, with the exception of sign language readers who will need video files. EPUB documents can also be easily converted into other formats, it says. However, “The present issue is that not everyone has ePub readers installed on their device. Also not everyone has an ePub creator tool”, the paper says.

“There are a wealth of document formats: so this is an opportunity to review those and recommend what the most accessible format is, to try and increase accessibility in document publication”, Nigel Lewis, chair of One Voice, told E-Access Bulletin this week.

“The initial recommendation of the EPUB format is perhaps a surprise, since most people might consider pdf or .doc as the most accessible default formats”, Lewis said. “But we wanted a controversy – to stir a debate among our membership”.

EPUB is an open electronic book standard developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), an international publishing industry body whose UK members include Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Open University and RNIB.

As well as looking at the overall accessibility of each format, the One Voice debate would examine the best ways of structuring documents in all major formats, Lewis said. “Most people still don’t structure common documents in an accessible way,” he said.

Alongside the new work, One Voice is launching a membership drive to expand its network of partners collaborating to improve digital accessibility, Lewis said. Membership of the group currently stands at about 50 organisations and individuals including E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar. Full members must pay an annual fee to join, and new members include Barclays banking group.

Top e-Book Reader Makers Contest US Accessibility Law

Three of the biggest e-book reader manufacturers – Amazon, Kobo and Sony – have petitioned the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ask for exemptions from US laws requiring products to be accessible to users with disabilities.

The three are urging the commission to waive parts of the 21st Century Video and Communications and Video Accessibility Act which require any product offering ‘advanced communication services’ (ACS) to be “accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” The manufacturers say that as e-readers are used almost exclusively for reading, they do not provide more generic ACS. They argue that to make them fully accessible would increase their cost and weight and decrease battery life, essentially turning them into different devices more similar to tablet computers.

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‘Historic’ Accessible Copyright Treaty is ‘Miracle In Marrakech’

An historic international treaty to increase book access for blind and visually impaired people has finally been adopted at a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) after almost six years of wrangling, negotiations and setbacks.

Signed at a WIPO conference in Marrakech, Morocco, the treaty will allow exceptions to copyright laws so accessible versions of books and other printed material can be shared internationally for blind and visually impaired people to use. Up to now, such sharing of books has not been possible due to objections from copyright holders in some countries.

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Accessible Copyright Treaty Hits New Roadblock

The World Blind Union (WBU) has reacted angrily to a new setback to long-running work on an international copyright treaty which could improve access to accessible books for blind and visually impaired people.

The union has been a key negotiator in talks at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) which have been going on for almost five years. Following the latest round of talks from 18-20 April in Geneva, the WBU released a statement saying the discussions “devoted almost no time to insuring that the treaty will encourage the cross border sharing of desperately needed books for the blind”, concentrating instead on protecting the rights of existing copyright holders.

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